Supriya Ghosh (Editor)


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SIL International



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Ethnologue: Languages of the World is a web-based publication that contains statistics for 7,457 languages in its 19th edition, which was released in 2016. Of these, 7,097 are listed as living and 360 are listed as extinct. Ethnologue provides information on the number of speakers, location, dialects, linguistic affiliations, availability of the Bible in each language and dialect described, and an estimate of language viability using the Expanded Graded Intergenerational Disruption Scale (EGIDS). The publication is well respected and widely used by linguists.



Ethnologue is published by SIL International (formerly known as the Summer Institute of Linguistics), a Christian linguistic service organization based in Dallas, Texas. The organization studies numerous minority languages in order to facilitate language development and work with the speakers of such language communities in translating portions of the Bible into their language.

What counts as a language depends upon socio-linguistic evaluation; as the preface to Ethnologue says, "Not all scholars share the same set of criteria for what constitutes a 'language' and what features define a 'dialect'." Ethnologue follows general linguistic criteria, which are based primarily on mutual intelligibility. Shared language intelligibility features are complex, and usually include etymological and grammatical evidence that is agreed upon by experts.

In addition to choosing a primary name for a language, Ethnologue gives names that its speakers, governments, foreigners and neighbors use for it and its dialects, and also describes how the language and its dialects have been named and referenced historically, regardless of whether a name is considered official, politically correct or offensive. These lists of names are not necessarily complete.

In 1984, Ethnologue released a three-letter coding system, called an "SIL code", to identify each language that it described. This set of codes significantly exceeded the scope of other standards, e.g. ISO 639-1 and ISO 639-2. The 14th edition, published in 2000, included 7,148 language codes. In 2002, Ethnologue was asked to work with the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) to integrate its codes into a draft international standard. The 15th edition of Ethnologue was the first edition to use this standard, called ISO 639-3. This standard is now administered separately from Ethnologue (though still by SIL) according to rules established by ISO, and since then Ethnologue relies on the standard to determine what is listed as a language.

With the 17th edition, Ethnologue introduced a numerical code for language status using a framework called EGIDS (Extended Graded Inter-generational Disruption Scale), an elaboration of Fishman’s GIDS (Graded Inter-generational Disruption Scale), which ranks a language from 0 for an international language to 10 for an extinct language, i.e. a language with which no-one retains a sense of ethnic identity.

In December 2015, Ethnologue launched a soft paywall; users in high-income countries who want to refer to more than seven data pages per month can buy a paid subscription.

Language families

Ethnologue's 18th edition describes 228 language families (including 96 language isolates) and six typological categories (sign languages, creoles, pidgins, mixed languages, constructed languages, and as yet unclassified languages).


In 1986, William Bright, then editor of the journal Language, wrote of Ethnologue that it "is indispensable for any reference shelf on the languages of the world". In 2008 in the same journal, Lyle Campbell and Verónica Grondona said: "Ethnologue...has become the standard reference, and its usefulness is hard to overestimate."

In 2015, also in Language, Harald Hammarström, an editor of Glottolog, criticized the publication for frequently lacking citations and failing to articulate clear principles of language classification and identification. However, he concluded that, on balance, "Ethnologue is an impressively comprehensive catalogue of world languages, and it is far superior to anything else produced prior to 2009."


Starting with the 18th edition, new editions of Ethnologue are to be published every year.


Ethnologue Wikipedia

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